Significance of scientific and empirical research in health reporting in India

Before 1990 doctors were utilizing the results of single or carefully selected examinations, or the procedures or advices they took in clinical school from their professors or seniors, to treat the patients. With the advent of 1990, the process of treating the patients changed dramatically as a group of science minded doctors subscribed themselves to built up a store of ‘systematic reviews’ which combined every query sort through all the best science on specific medical questions. This a statistical method to weigh the relative findings and the methods of single studies rather than relying on specific examinations or its results. Systematic reviews were revolutionary, it didn’t confine doctors’ evidence-based automatons, rather it empowered them to access a huge variety of data and make sense out of it. The review had in-fact played a role in wearing off certain misconceptions that found a way into the medicine, one such being, it was advised earlier to put infants to sleep on their stomachs, but through the reviews, it actually showed how the practice had put the children’s life in more threat. Reporting of research could grab the new audience and provide them with vital information, it can generate responses from the policymakers. The significance of scientific and empirical research stands high while reporting as any inappropriate, inaccurate, unauthentic and unreliable news draw up unnecessary expectations in pubic which in turn could result in formation of inefficient or unhealthy policies by the policy makers. Many evidences suggest that journalists while producing health reports often include their own interpretations and personal speculation lacking objectivity which results in incorrect and misleading reports.

A study published in 2014 listed the prime challenges while reporting health news:

  1. Negligible willingness of health professionals to impart information to the press
  2. Limitation of time
  3. Absence of latest statistics
  4. Problem in statistical interpretation
  5. Lack of medical knowledge in general.
  6. Little cooperation of health authorities.

The mainstream media, be it news channels or newspapers, is the first source from which the public learns about recent medical advancements. Thus, it is crucial when dealing with health issues or medical advancements to avoid creating a generalised or false narratives or generating unwarranted pressure on the already limited healthcare funding and infrastructure. There is an expectation that the media will provide unbiased, accurate and complete information while reporting on health. There are many obstacles while performing good quality health journalism. A stark gap between journalists and scientist can be witnessed which often leads to inaccurate information or the information being incomplete. There is an increasing tussle for reporting first hand news. Many reporters don’t have access to the researchers nor they have the appropriate tools. Often, special terms, expressions and abbreviations used by the health experts are not completely understood by the reporters. In addition to this, researches require time and in the industry of fast reportage and daily reminders, it almost becomes impossible to focus on it. A lot of reporters are also unaware about ‘systematic reviews’, let only their advantage. Reporters are often under pressure to report the health stories not only on time but also to sensualize it. Although the new media has provided space to journalists where they can always update their stories and explain the science behind the news.

Categories: News